By Joshua Kucera
The European Parliament issued an unusual rebuke to Georgia, along with a less unusual one to Azerbaijan, as Brussels expressed its consternation over the apparent kidnapping of a dissident Azerbaijani journalist in Tbilisi.
The EU lawmakers issued a statement on June 14 condemning the kidnapping of the journalist, Afghan Mukhtarli, called on the Azerbaijani authorities to release Mukhtarli and drop all the charges against him, and urged Tbilisi to conduct a serious investigation into the possible role of Georgian security services in the operation.
The resolution saves its strongest condemnation for Azerbaijan, but pulls no punches against Georgia. The criticism of Georgia is particularly dramatic given Tbilisi’s eagerness to curry favor with Brussels; it was just months ago that Georgian officials were lining up to thank European Parliament members for approving visa-free status to the EU for Georgian citizens.
“Georgia is a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights and it is therefore Georgia’s responsibility to guarantee the safety of Azerbaijanis living on its territory and to prevent any forced return to their home country,” the resolution noted. “Azerbaijani citizens have, however, increasingly encountered refusals to prolong their residence permits in Georgia.”
The MPs also “[considered] it of utmost importance that the Georgian authorities make every effort possible to clarify beyond any doubt all suspicion regarding the involvement of Georgian state agents in the forced disappearance.”
Given the importance Georgia places on Euro-Atlantic integration, “for them this is a severe blow,” one EP official told EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity. The response from Tbilisi has been muted, though; the government has repeatedly insisted that it had nothing to do with the kidnapping and is trying to get to the bottom of the situation. Georgia’s Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani said the European Parliament resolution “matches Georgia’s position.”
It is not the first time Georgia has been criticized by the body, but previous resolutions have been spearheaded by the European People’s Party, which has close ties to Georgia’s former ruling United National Movement, the parliament official said. This criticism is much stronger, though, and was backed by a broader array of European parliamentarians. “This takes it to a new level,” the official said.
Azerbaijan is no stranger to being criticized by the West, and it also taken the criticism more or less in stride. The last time the European Parliament issued a resolution against Azerbaijan was in September 2015, on the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, and the official reaction then was swift and angry.
This time the resolution was downplayed. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hikmet Hajiyev noted that the resolution was passed “after discussions that lasted only 20 minutes” and that “it has no legal power and does not result in any legal or any other consequences.”